Goodness! We are just a month into 2021 and such extraordinary films are already on display. The Dig is one of Netflix’s most exceptional works of cinematic rapturousness. It is no coincidence that the film is about a well-known archaeological survey in Suffolk, UK just before the second world war.
The Dig indeed digs deep, to discover emotions as precious and invaluable as the excavation on Edith Pretty’s land where sunken treasures are retrieved even as an emotional rollercoaster is played out above what lies beneath. It is a deceptive sedate land cape with threatening war planes hovering above and inviting ancient treasures buried beneath.
To be honest, I don’t know how director Simon Stone (his only other film The Daughter from 2025 is an undiscovered gem) managed to make such a tidy film out of John Preston’s celebrated novel. The book goes all over the place. The film adaptation manages to excavate the novel’s most valuable themes and lessons and puts them on the screen with a lightness of touch and an honesty of purpose which is not eclipsed by even a moment of artifice.
While the historical excavation goes on, the characters play out their own personal histories on the playground of destiny. Standing at the centre of the drama is Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty. Ms Mulligan has in no time grown into a formidable contemporary talent. If you’ve seen her other new film Promising Young Woman, you’d know that this actress can do anything. Here in The Dig she is frail, fabulous and dying. There is that smile that plays forever in her eyes that signifies hope even when the darkness insists on taking a front seat.
The relationship Edith builds with the archeologist Basil Brown(Ralph Fiennes, excellent as always) is one of durable trust. The film is suffused with memorable characters, none as much as the women Edith, Peggy a woman archeologist which was an oddity in those days, played with a muted poignancy by Lily James.The third memorable woman in this beautifully designed curio of a film is Basil Brown’s wife played by the amazing Monica Dolan.
The men in comparison come across as squeamish, repressed egoists, none more so than Fiennes’ archeologist husband. It takes his wife to remind him that history was being made and it’s not about him.
The most memorable male character is Edith’s brave 8-year old son Robert (Archie Barnes) who sees his mother wither away in front of him. “I promised my father that I’d look after my mother. I failed,” he sobs to his new old friend Basil Brown.
This is a film that doesn’t flinch from failure. It takes on an impossibly unwieldy plot and compresses it into a beautifully stitched pastiche of pain, loneliness and regret. An extraordinary achievement.
Image source: Youtube/Nwtflix, Youtube
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